BEACH SLANG – ‘THE DEADBEAT BANG OF HEARTBREAK CITY’

By Greg Hyde

Following the release of the debut LP by Quiet Slang last year, front man James Alex’s main project Beach Slang have returned to unleash their third full–length album, ‘The Deadbeat Bang of Heartbreak City’. Having previously described the band’s sound as “me fawning over The Replacements”, Alex has pulled off the unbelievable coup of bringing in The Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson to contribute to the record. Touching on darker themes, it sees the quartet touch on subjects such as well–loved idols dying prematurely, toxic relationships, and teenage vice. The lyrical treatment isn’t always sensitive or delicate, but Beach Slang incorporate instruments like synths and violins to detract from the more melancholic moments.

It opens with ‘All the Kids in LA’, a near–instrumental in which the opening string section that gives way to the sort of full–throttle guitars that made their sophomore release ‘A Loud Bash…’ such a hit with fans of melodic indie–punk. It’s a neat way of letting the listener know that ‘The Deadbeat Bang…’ is an album featuring sonic innovations and experiments that weren’t present on its predecessor, while still managing to build upon their core ideas. An interesting aspect to the record is the way in which its first side is generally darker and more downbeat than its second. For example, side one features ‘Tommy in the 80s’, a wistful, mid–paced rabble–rouser that was written as a tribute to power pop legend Tommy Keene in the wake of his untimely death in 2017, and ‘Nobody Say Nothing’, a string–heavy acoustic song that was possibly informed by Alex’s work on the Quiet Slang side project, with tender instrumentation nullified by dark lyrics about a relationship gone wrong (“Your blood is filthy / It’s stuck inside my skin / It won’t kill me / Sometimes I wish it could”).

By contrast, side two’s ‘Sticky Thumbs’ is a track that recalls tacky 80s glam metal bands musically and thematically. It ostensibly deals with blue–collar teenagers from the “dirtbag suburbs” heading into the city for illicit thrills and features questionable lyrics like “Just a hooker with a crooked tat/I don’t eat anything, I never do that”. Adding in ‘Born to Raise Hell’ and ‘Stiff’, with their glam metal–inspired power chords and speed riffing, and it feels slightly incompatible directly after the darker, more mournful songs playing a few minutes earlier. Rounding things off, ‘Kicking Over Bottles’ features the album’s most successful use of a horn section, using them to underpin Alex’s vocals during the chorus and resulting in an affecting, uplifting singalong.

‘The Deadbeat Bang of Heartbreak City’ is a mostly successful attempt to maintain the upbeat, anthemic songwriting Beach Slang have become known for, whilst developing, evolving and adapting new styles. There are points at which the musical experimentation feels like it’s being done for its own sake, but there are moments- such as ‘Kicking Over Bottles’ – when it genuinely feels like it’s contributing new layers. It’s a record that should appeal to fans of The Menzingers’ 2019 release ‘Hello Exile’, insofar as it sees an indie–punk quartet that deal in power chord–filled singalong anthems transitioning to a more introspective style of songwriting – although the transition feels more deliberate, less nuanced, and less like a natural evolution from the band’s previous material. Whilst not quite reaching the soaring heights of ‘A Loud Bash…’, ‘The Deadbeat Bang…’ is an album filled with consistently enjoyable indie–punk anthems that get 2020 off to a fun, melodic start.

GREG HYDE

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